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Athenaeum Jazz at the Neurosciences Institute created a hugely successful finale to the fall concert series last night with a performance by the Mike Wofford / Holly Hofmann Quintet. The gig was in celebration of their soon-to-be-released CD, Turn Signal on Capri Records. The concert was sold-out, standing room only.

Wofford and Hofmann are well known to San Diego jazz fans. Wofford has had a story-book career, including associations with Oliver Nelson, Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Haden. Hofmann, who happens to be married to the pianist, has logged time with bass great Ray Brown, and fellow flute giant Frank Wess, among many others.

Both musicians are mostly considered mainstream jazz performers--but the truth is considerably more complex than that, as evidenced by their performances on the free jazz classic, Sucker Punch Requiem by bassist Lisle Ellis, and Wofford's work with Vinny Golia. Hofmann has got a beautiful sound on the flute--on par with Hubert Laws--and she is a much better improviser.

Appearing with the couple were San Diego stalwarts Rob Thorsen on bass, Richard Sellers on drums, and Philadelphia trumpeter Terell Stafford.

The concert opened with "Karita," a lilting groove by Bobby Watson, that featured a smartly delivered solo by Stafford, who distinguishes himself, by taking his time, velocity wise. It makes his warm, round tone stand out even more, because each note of his melodic contours sticks with you. Hofmann followed on alto flute, her pure tone augmented by startling turns of phrase and subtle manipulations of timbre. Wofford built his solo with two-handed chords that orbited around the basic harmony and sparkling single-note runs. Thorsen and Wofford traded 8's over a pedal tone, then Sellers took over with precise, almost martial machinations.

"Soul Street," was dedicated to Wofford's former employer Nelson, and it was an intriguing minor blues that showcased the pianist's light touch alongside Thorsen's muscular bass lines. Wofford took almost a dozen laps around the field--exploring the blues from multiple angles. Hofmann's solo managed to squeeze a John Coltrane reference in, and Stafford's supercharged spot evoked everyone from Louis Armstrong to Woody Shaw. The band took the tune out with an astonishing "shout-chorus" featuring the horns in perfect unison.

Special guest Joanna Pascale joined the group for a sublime reading of "When Sunny Gets Blue," with perfect commentary from Stafford's muted trumpet.

They saved the best for last, though, a Hofmann original written for her dog, Emily. An uptempo cooker with drum parts written into the melody, this one burned from bar one, eliciting a show-stopping solo from Hofmann who played with drums-only accompaniment--a la 'Trane & Elvin for the first part of her improvisation.That seemed to ratchet up the ecstasy factor for the rest of the group, because everyone kicked it up a notch.

Athenaeum Jazz has some exciting, innovative concerts coming up next year at the Neurosciences Institute, and a killer Peter Sprague String Consort event to be held at their alternate site: Athenaeum Jazz at the Studio, Dec. 2, at 4441 Park Boulevard.

Photo courtesy Holly Hofmann, Mike Wofford

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